Archives For Communication

Here’s a paragraph from a book I’m reading about the power of images in the Roman empire. People were pretty much using images of themselves doing cool stuff (cooler than their neighbours) to establish their own brand. Their own significance. Their own place in the great pecking order of life.

The disintegration of Roman society created individual rivalries and insecurity that led to exaggerated forms of self-promotion even among people who had nothing to gain by it. What began as a traditional agonistic spirit among the aristocracy denigrated into frantic displays of wealth and success. But the scope of opportunity for such display was often still rather limited. P. Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, 15

Sounds a lot like now. Except we have Facebook.

Screen Shot 2013-04-30 at 4.04.16 PM
Image: A screenshot from Facebook’s “Timeline” page

Using Facebook to glorify something other than yourself and your curated life is pretty hard. Even the links we share about stuff that we’re passionate about tends to be stuff that tries to make us look good. Check out this TechCrunch article that may as well be titled the hypocrisy of our use of the Internet, but is actually titled “Sex is more popular than Jesus on Google” (for some depressing confirmation – try going to google and watching the autocomplete results for “I’m 10 and” and then adding a number until you get to your 50s, 60s, or 70s…).

The TechCrunch article features this series of snippets from a presentation the guy who made buzzfeed (Jonah Peretti) gave at a conference today.

When you look at google searches, he says perhaps unsurprisingly, “sex is more popular than Jesus on google.” Compare the search terms “diet pills” and “Arab spring,” diet pills win. Obviously, this isn’t what Larry and Sergey had in mind when they started Google.

We use Google to search for secret things, to investigate what other people are saying about our deepest darkest secrets, interests and curiosities. Google Image search is filled with pictures of pets doing hilarious things, while Google search serves up results on the great ocean of porn out there on the Web.

Facebook, on the other hand, is a projection of our social relationships and behavior. Together, they generally represent and are a metaphor for the two ways we use the Internet. On Facebook, the same person who is looking at stories involving nude pics, is also looking at and sharing inspiring stories about victims overcoming disabilities and so on, along with politically-motivated stories.

My goal for the next little while is to practice something like the 80/20 rule – where 80 percent of the stuff I post isn’t about me and how great my coffee life is – but about how thankful I am for Jesus, and how thankful I am for other people. And the other 20 percent of stuff is authentically me – not the curated me. I’ll try to be interesting, and not just reflect on my toast (unless it’s a really cool instagram shot of my toast. No wait. That’s doing it again).

This Tumblr We Never Look Up tracks how technology makes people less present in whatever physical space they’re in.

This study says people who use their phones heaps are more likely to be self-indulged, self-seeking, and racist.

“A new study showed that young adults who text more than 100 times a day tend to be more interested in wealth, vanity and less so in leading a virtuous life.

Led by psychology professors Paul Trapnell and Lisa Sinclair, the University of Winnipeg study suggested that students who text that much are 30 percent less likely to value living an “ethical, principled life,” compared to those who texted 50 times or less a day. The study also showed that heavy texters exhibited higher levels of ethnic prejudice.

Researcher gleaned their findings from 2,300 freshman psychology students who took online surveys about their goals in life, personality traits and how much they texted. Around 30 percent reported texting 200 or more times a day, while 12 percent indicated they texted more than 300 times a day.”

And this technological evolution is potentially rewiring our brains. That study says people are becoming, like, more superficial and stuff.

“The study aimed to test the “shallowing hypothesis” that Nicholas Carr discusses in his book “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.” The hypothesis suggests that relentless texters and heavy users of Twitter are more superficial because the platforms encourage rapid and brief interactions that promote shallow thought.

“The values and traits most closely associated with texting frequency are surprisingly consistent with Carr’s conjecture that new information and social media technologies may be displacing and discouraging reflective thought.”

There’s another book that says we’re all, well, at least the males of the species, becoming man-children because of these changes.

“This new kind of addictive arousal traps users into an expanded present hedonistic time zone. Past and future are distant and remote, as the present moment expands to dominate everything. And that present is totally dynamic, with images changing constantly. Boys’ brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way to demand change, novelty, excitement and constant stimulation.”

This is mostly due to porn – which does terrible and damaging things to the brain – but the writer of the book quoted in this blog post, also points the finger at the dreaded spectre of video games.

“That means they are becoming totally out of sync in traditional school classes, which are analog, static and interactively passive. Academics are based on applying past lessons to future problems, on planning, on delaying gratifications, on work coming before play, on long-term goal setting.”

Lots of people see the negatives associated with these social changes (and again – there are only negatives associated with the porn industry and what it does to those who fall into its clutches). And there are negatives – if people look at their devices and never connect with real people. That’s certainly not been my experience of social media and its impact on my real world social interactions… sometimes I think someone should study the average age of people who write negative studies about young people.

But are people less connected and more selfish? I don’t know if this is a properly basic understanding of the social web. Even when the web goes wrong – and it did horribly in the aftermath of the Boston Bombings as Reddit went on a terrorist hunt – it goes wrong socially. It goes wrong because it brings people together in new ways. It harnesses the mob mentality. Texting is the same – it can appeal to our baser natures and amplify our capacity for sinfulness. Sure. But you don’t need smart phones and university studies to know that young people are vacuous and vain. In the main. Consider Narcissus. Facebook is the modern day version of the mirrored pool.

Are we failing to grow up? Or are the young people of today forced to confront less affordable housing than ever before because of the avarice of the generations above them. This will cause inevitable social change. So will new technology.

Sooner or later, as Christians, we’ve got to start thinking about how we get people thinking about Jesus when they’re staring at their iThings and playing games. If that’s where people are spending all their time “doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (like the marketplace in Acts 17:21), then we, like Paul, should see that as an opportunity for cultural critique and gospel engagement – not simply hand-wringing and condemnation. Imagine if Luther had condemned the printing press – because people reading and writing pamphlets wouldn’t be talking to other people. Or people ignoring Paul because he wrote them letters rather than being present…

It seems we’re at a bit of a crossroads in the Australian evangelical church at the moment – once we recognise that the church isn’t really growing – do we throw our lot in with Spurgeon, or with Augustine… For many in our scene – faithful preaching from the pulpit is the ultimate panacea – and if the church isn’t growing then it doesn’t matter, so long as we’re faithful, or perhaps a lack of growth is a sign of some lack of faithfulness…

augustine spurgeon

I reckon the problem is that many of us have conflated “faithful preaching of the gospel” with “expository preaching on a Sunday” – and we’ve pretty much checked our responsibilities in at the door at that point. I’m not going to argue against expository preaching – because I think it is part of faithfully preaching the gospel – but I wonder if we’re missing two-thirds of the persuasion triangle… We seem hesitant, or suspicious, of anything other than unadorned words – be it emotive production values or anything that by itself would be manipulative, or an emphasis on the sort of life and good works we should be producing outside of the pulpit… Part of this has been from a desire to respond to the imbalance of the pentecostal movement on one hand, and the social gospel driven ecumenical movement, which focused solely on “liberating the oppressed” because nobody could agree on what the gospel actually is, on the other. But we’ll get to that when we get to the triangles below…

On the merit of “Egyptian Gold”

I read this stirring Spurgeon quote about preaching that Justin Taylor shared a couple of days ago, especially these bits:

“Are you afraid that preaching the gospel will not win souls? Are you despondent as to success in God’s way? Is this why you pine for clever oratory? Is this why you must have music, and architecture, and flowers and millinery? After all, is it by might and power, and not by the Spirit of God? It is even so in the opinion of many.”

…”I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes hither to gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel; yet where will you find such a crowd as this gathered together this morning? Where will you find such a multitude as this meeting Sabbath after Sabbath, for five-and-thirty years? I have shown you nothing but the cross, the cross without flowers of oratory, the cross without diamonds of ecclesiastical rank, the cross without the buttress of boastful science. It is abundantly sufficient to attract men first to itself, and afterwards to eternal life!”

…In this house we have proved successfully, these many years, this great truth, that the gospel plainly preached will gain an audience, convert sinners, and build up and sustain a church.

There is no need to go down to Egypt for help. To invite the devil to help Christ is shameful. Please God, we shall see prosperity yet, when the church of God is resolved never to seek it except in God’s own way.

There is much to like in Spurgeon’s quote – the church is God’s agent in the world and its job is to promote, proclaim, declare, whatever verb you like, the wonder of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s our mission, and arguably how we worship.

But there are a couple of things that rankle me in this quote – while I agree that the gospel requires words – because it is the story of God’s word made flesh…

  1. I still can’t help but think that the reduction of our mission to just words misses the point of both the actions that the written accounts we call gospels contain, and the strong links made between the lives we live, the good we do, and the love we give and our testimony to the world (so to provide a sample of from three different New Testament’s authors – John 13:35, 1 Cor 10:33, 1 Peter 3:8-16). Interestingly, Augustine suggests that the good we do should be to the end of seeing people come to know God
  2. I don’t understand the assumption that the Spirit can’t work through architecture, music, flowers, or even millinery – surely the Spirit doing so would be a greater testimony of his power, not lesser. Surely if there is a milliner, or flower arranger, in your congregation they can find some use for their profession as part of the body, to point people to Jesus – these things can’t replace word ministry but word ministry doesn’t need to happen in a cultural vacuum (and the right balance is important). I like Luther’s potentially pseudopigraphic “make a good shoe and sell it for a fair price” quote at this point…
  3. I can’t figure out why “word ministry” as in the promotion of the Gospel should be limited to the spoken word in a way that rules out using the “gold of the Egyptians” – or without the metaphor – the good parts of the created order that can be applied to gospel ministry and declaration of truth. Music, video, the arts – all of these can be used as “word” ministry – they just lean heavier towards pathos than logos when it comes to the persuasive act.
  4. This displays a limited doctrine of creation – one I’ve been guilty of in the past when it comes to free range eggs (and the environment) – the way we treat creation and how we use it is also part of our testimony – and this includes the way we think of the arts, and things that people make as part of our stewardship of creation and desire to bring order to it… as an aside: I don’t think the way “creation” and “redemption” are as separate as some people want to suggest (there’s a bit of a debate about this) – I now think redemption, and God’s mission, encompass creation – and how we use it – but “redeeming creation” is not an “end,” it’s a means to support the ultimate end – our mission to redeem people.

In fact – on the second point – what we do with the “gold” we find – or the goodness of creation – is an incredibly strong part of our testimony.

The “receive, redeem, reject” paradigm for culture that has been made popular by Keller, Driscoll, et al is pretty useful – and it works with the plundered gold analogy that Augustine ran with…

If the gold of Egypt is some sort of “truth” – a “created order” thing, being used in a cultural way – perhaps, for the purpose of this post, a persuasive technique, or musical style… it seems to me there are four options for this thing:

1. Leave it in Egypt – assuming the gold itself is inherently bad - because people use it to make idols.
2. Bring it with you, as is, or make it your own idol – like a golden calf, at the foot of Sinai.
3. Bring it with you, because gold is beautiful - recognise its goodness without worshipping it – music whether written to honour God – like Bach, or written as a recognition of the way ordered sounds can work together to create pleasure – captures something of the goodness of creation, as music.
4. Bring it with you, use it to glorify God – build the temple out of it, artistically, with sculptures. People will then both understand a good God made it, and understand that this Good God is Yahweh, who reveals himself in creation, and the redemption of creation.

The first seems to be Spurgeon’s approach when it comes to what happens in church, the fourth seems to be what Augustine advocates… it’s no secret that I think Augustine is right – my masters project is going to be an application of his principle to modern communication theories. Here’s the money quote…

“…all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them. Now these are, so to speak, their gold and silver, which they did not create themselves, but dug out of the mines of God’s providence which are everywhere scattered abroad, and are perversely and unlawfully prostituting to the worship of devils. These, therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the miserable fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them, and to devote to their proper use in preaching the gospel. Their garments, also —that is, human institutions such as are adapted to that intercourse with men which is indispensable in this life — we must take and turn to a Christian use.”

There really is no “Egyptian Gold” – but rather an Egyptian use of Gold, that may or may not be redeemable. This is demonstrably the case if we believe that every idol results from taking something good that God has made and using it in wrong ways.

On “faithful preaching” and equilateral triangles

But all this got me thinking about “faithful preaching”… and triangles.

If the following linked premises hold true:

  • Preaching must involve the faithful articulation of the gospel. I’m with the Bible, the reformers and the Westminster Confession on this – for a church to be a church, it needs to be a gathering of people united by the gospel of the Lord Jesus, who are proclaiming the gospel through preaching and the sacraments.
  • Our “preaching of the Gospel” can’t just be words. It has to include words – so Francis of Assisi is still wrong – but those words need to be backed up by action. How the church lives and loves its community is part of the package of faithful gospel preaching… because teaching is more than words.
  • Paul’s call to “imitate him, as he imitates Christ” (1 Cor 11:1) is a bit of a unifying principle delivered to a church fractured over preaching styles (the conflict he addresses earlier in the letter) – where imitation was a key part of first century oratorical competition (so, for example, Cicero bemoans poor choices about who and what young orators imitate and pushes for an imitation of substance over style).
  • Paul, in both 1-2 Corinthians, champions an approach to preaching that includes the embodiment of the cruciform (cross-shaped) life as the key aspect of this imitation (you’ll have to read my essay on Corinthians to find out why I think this)
  • Preaching is an act of persuasion (no doubt governed by the work of the Spirit – I’d argue, like Augustine, that rhetoric works because it recognises a truth about the order God has created in the world, particularly how human minds work).
  • Faithful preaching is more than what is said from the pulpit, but is how a preacher, and by extension the church, as a whole, lives as the Body of Christ in their time and place.

There’s something nice and Incarnational about all of this that I’m increasingly appreciating…

But if these points are true – then we can kind of understand “faithful preaching” using an Aristotelian framework, which includes logos, pathos, and ethos – with the type of life the preacher lives (ethos) being a decisive communicative act – serving to either emphasise or undermine the “pathos” or “logos” (ie the content of the preaching)… Which is where the triangles come in…

I’d argue that part of the mix which is limiting the growth of our branch of the church is that we’re so cerebral and logos driven in our approach that we’re relying almost entirely on our ability to persuade solely by reason (I’m not suggesting the Spirit can’t work through this – simply that it might be true that God has created us to respond to pathos and take note of ethos as well – and that we’ve been instructed to employ those aspects as part of our “preaching” more than we might at present in our gatherings and the rest of our life as a church).

It’s hard to make generalisations here… and I’m reflecting a little on my experience in some churches that were actually growing as a result of faithful and engaging Bible teaching – and some attempt to figure out how to engage with the world around us (I don’t think they’re just doing what Spurgeon says is all they need to be doing – they typically also have excellent music, well thought out architecture, and other bits and pieces) – but also on my observations of the churches that I’ve been part of that seek to imitate the logos aspect of those churches without necessarily investing heavily into pathos in a way that treats each place and people group as different…

I’m also reflecting a little on my training, the things that have been emphasised as I grew up in evangelical ministries in Australia including my churches, AFES, other groups I’ve been part of, and my experience at theological college. All of these groups require a certain threshold for “character” when it comes to involvement, but I don’t think ethos - which I’m defining as how to live in the world in a winsome and persuasive way that backs up my words - has ever been the focal point of the training I’ve received.

I’ve been pretty well equipped with the logos stuff… I think, like Spurgeon, we’ve been pretty suspicious of pathos too, because without logos it can be manipulative and lacking in substance (and we’ve seen that a little in the worship wars and the Pentecostal movement), though I think being “winsome and gracious” in how you speak is a mix of pathos and ethos.

I suspect the lack of focus on ethos is because ethos will ultimately look, without the logos, like the social gospel stuff we’re all so keen to avoid.

And now. For the visual learners and thinkers… a triangular approach to this issue.

This is a triangular picture of Aristotle’s approach to rhetoric. It’s an equilateral triangle, and represents all these aspects being held nicely in balance – I suspect this is the model for faithful preaching – because I think Aristotle has rightly recognised the way humans are persuaded of truths.

Aristotles Triangle

If this is a truth about the way people, and creation, works – then we should expect to see some fruits of it in terms of growth, assuming that the Holy Spirit works, in some way, consistently with the created order that God declared to be good. Perhaps even by helping us see that order in a way that guides our participation in the world.

This is my caricature (thus it is a little reductionistic) of the emphasis I think exists in our evangelical circles, it’s not without pathos or ethos – but logos is heavily emphasised.

The evangelical triangle

This is my caricature of the emphasis in more charismatic churches… My guess is that these churches are growing faster than those in the evangelical tradition because their triangle is a little closer to being persuasive – while they don’t necessarily place a heavy emphasis on solid teaching, they tend to, as a generalisation, be more interested in social justice type stuff, and much better at appealing to the emotions via their production quality, use of music, style of music, etc… Though their teaching is a little shallower than we might like, and occasionally just plain wrong in terms of what promises are fulfilled now for Christians, and what is still to come – it’s generally recognisable as Christian preaching, in that the Lordship of Christ is foundational.

Pentecostal triangle

And this is my caricature of the emphasis in liberal churches where the emphasis is on bringing transformation to the world, and liberating the oppressed – rather than articulating any actual definitive truth. There’s a complete lack of balance here – and depending on the churches in question, the lack of anything remotely like logos translates to a lack of moderating influence on what constitutes faithful gospel shaped pathos or ethos, which is why I think the liberal church is shrinking faster than any other variety.

Liberal triangle

So, I reckon Spurgeon is right – I think all that is required for the church to grow is faithful, Christ centred, gospel preaching – but I think that encompasses more than the delivery of a logos-heavy presentation from the pulpit, it’s got to involve using the goodness of creation to point people to the creator of that goodness, through the right use of pathos – music, art, and an understanding of how to stir the emotions, but it’s ultimately got to be matched with the type of ethos outside the pulpit that lends weight to our words when we talk about God loving people.

 

Back in ancient Rome there wasn’t “PR” or “Marketing” or “social media” but there was a “public square” and there was “communication” and there most certainly was “persuasion” and “propaganda” – and it largely depended on rhetoric, and oratory, and the type of oratory most highly prized was eloquence.

Cicero was a bit of an expert on eloquence, and oratory. Not only did he publish a bunch of material on how to speak, and be eloquent, other famous people like Julius Caesar, dedicated their own published works on oratory to him. This makes him an ancient expert, somewhat anachronistically, on public relations, and communication. All you have to do is replace “Oratory” with “communication” and “eloquence” with “being good at communicating”…

cicero statue

Image Credit: Cicero Statue, The First Premise, Cicero

As I read through Cicero’s handbooks and other stuff for a bit of research, and for fun, I’m struck over and over again by how timeless his principles and advice are. His single-minded pursuit of oratory excellence, and thus, excellence in communication led him to study communication, and persuasion, from its earliest days as a science – to his present day, an approach we can probably learn from, even if we want to pretend everything of value has been invented in the last couple of generations (and even if we don’t – it’s worth seeing how timeless truth is).

He acknowledges that this pursuit is pretty difficult, because while there are some objective qualities of good oratory, and an objective essence of good communication – that all communication can be judged on, the actual act of communication is almost purely subjective.

“How then shall we strike out a general rule or model, when there are several manners, and each of them has a certain perfection of its own? But this difficulty has not deterred me from the undertaking; nor have I altered my opinion that in all things there is a something which comprehends the highest excellence of the kind, and which, though not generally discernible, is sufficiently conspicuous to him, who is skilled in the subject.”

Here are 10 things I think modern communicators can learn from Cicero, with some quotes (and if you hit the “read more” link after the list, there’s a bunch of quotes from his Cicero’s Brutus or History of Famous Orators, and The Orator).

It’s a pretty long post including the quotes – sorry if it all makes it into the RSS feed.

  1. Words are powerful. Especially when they’re well used.
    Words persuade people.

    This is the Eloquence that bends and sways the passions!—this the Eloquence that alarms or sooths them at her pleasure! This is the Eloquence that sometimes tears up all before it like a whirlwind; and, at other times, steals imperceptibly upon the senses, and probes to the bottom of the heart!

  2. Know what you’re trying to do when you communicate (move your audience to action or change their thinking).
    Good communication means thinking about who your audience is, and how you want to change them (or stop them changing).

    As, therefore, the two principal qualities required in an Orator, are to be neat and clear in stating the nature of his subject, and warm and forcible in moving the passions; and as he who fires and inflames his audience, will always effect more than he who can barely inform and amuse them” 
  3. Know your audience, and their expectations. Contextualise. Don’t bore people.
    Given these two points, the communicator should choose words that speak to their audience, so communication requires observation, education, thinking, and participating in life.

    “He, therefore, is the man of genuine Eloquence, who can adapt his language to what is most suitable to each. By doing this, he will be sure to say every thing as it ought to be said. He will neither speak drily upon copious subjects, nor without dignity and spirit upon things of importance; but his language will always be proportioned, and equal to his subject.”

  4. Be clear
    Use words and phrases people will understand, phrased as concisely as possible, but pay heed to convention and context, don’t be so clear you’re boring.

    …the simple and easy Speaker is remarkably dexterous and keen, and aiming at nothing but our information, makes every thing he discourses upon, rather clear and open than great and striking, and polishes it with the utmost neatness and accuracy.”

  5. Pay attention to the structure of your argument.
    Think about pace, rhythm, rhyme, and verve, but most importantly – how to structure your argument around your purpose.

    “For every cause can have but one natural introduction and conclusion; and all the other parts of it, like the members of an animal body, will best retain their proper strength and beauty, when they are regularly disposed and connected.”

  6. Be engaging.
    This means cleverly, or inventively, using new and exciting combinations of words designed to stir people, and using humour sometimes (carefully and originally).

    “This kind of Oratory will likewise be frequently enlivened by those turns of wit and pleasantry, which in Speaking have a much greater effect than is imagined. There are two sorts of them; the one consisting in smart sayings and quick repartees, and the other in what is called humour. Our Orator will make use of both;—of the latter in his narratives, to make them lively and entertaining;—and of the other, either in giving or retorting a stroke of ridicule.”

  7. Use familiar structures, concepts and tools, but change the words to paint new, clear, pictures.
    Sticking with what people know, and using it to change what they think, is a good strategy.

    “But in the use of metaphors, he will, perhaps, take greater liberties; because these are frequently introduced in conversation, not only by Gentlemen, but even by rustics, and peasants: for we often hear them say that the vine shoots out it’s buds, that the fields are thirsty, the corn lively, and the grain rich and flourishing. Such expressions, indeed, are rather bold: but the resemblance between the metaphor and the object is either remarkably obvious; or else, when the latter has no proper name to express it, the metaphor is so far from appearing to be laboured, that we seem to use it merely to explain our meaning.”

  8. Character, and personal substance, is important, bad character corrupts communication
    It’s not just the medium that is the message. You are the message too. Partly because in oratory you were the medium – in modern communication who you are is as important, if not more important, than what you say.

    “But (as I have before observed) I have been so much transported, not by the force of my genius, but by the real fervor of my heart, that I was unable to restrain myself: —and, indeed, no language will inflame the mind of the hearer, unless the Speaker himself first catches the ardor, and glows with the importance of his subject.”

  9. Communicating well is hard, successful communication achieves its purpose.
    While there are plenty of communication principles, it should be judged on its fruits – how well does what you’re communicating achieve its purpose?

    “The general merit of an Orator must and will be decided by the effects which his eloquence produces. For (in my opinion at least) there are three things which an Orator should be able to effect; viz. to inform his hearers, to please them, and to move their passions.”

  10. Practice, imitation, reading, and writing makes better, and if at first you don’t succeed, keep pursuing excellence.
    Communicating well is hard work. But it’s better to try to communicate well, and fail, than to simply communicate poorly.

    “It is but reasonable, however, that all those who covet what is excellent, and which cannot be acquired without the greatest application, should exert their utmost. But if any one is deficient in capacity, and destitute of that admirable force of genius which Nature bestows upon her favourites, or has been denied the advantages of a liberal education, let him make the progress he is able. For while we are driving to overtake the foremost, it is no disgrace to be found among the second class, or even the third…” 

If you want to read further, I’ve included the list again, with more supporting quotes from Cicero, below…

Continue Reading…

Al posted this thoughtful bit of pastoral advice the other day.

“Relationally it’s better to get on the phone. And if people are already against you then in my experience it’s best not to answer them in black and white.”

And then, just a day later, this video appeared on the Gospel Coalition blog.

It’s good advice. And all the points are valid. Especially in the context of ministry. I’ve got to say though, I found keeping an email trail was incredibly beneficial for protecting oneself from future recollections of a conversation – so sometimes it is worth having things in writing.

The eyes have it

Nathan Campbell —  April 21, 2010

Eye contact is the preacher’s Holy Grail. Especially if you listen to people who are anti full text. I’m not so sure. Eye contact is good, especially for new people, but I think the longer I’m sitting under faithful preaching the less I care if the preacher is meeting my gaze regularly. Eye contact is how we accommodate fussy listeners. It’s pandering. I’d say almost 30% of the feedback I’ve received for preaching is on delivery, and that’s evenly split between pacing (which is very important) and eye contact (which is not).

Non verbal communication theoretically accounts for 80% or more of our spoken communication, this is (if I remember correctly) mostly to do with tone, followed by movement and expression (what you lose from communication from in person dialogue to a phone call is less than what you lose from a phone call to reading text). Eye contact is a small part of the picture – but it is by no means the most important part. It’s fools gold.

In journalism we’re taught that eye contact is intimidating. And anybody who has ever spent a conversation talking to someone who stares intently into their eyes knows that it can be both creepy and off putting. Newsreaders are trained to blink, while journalists will almost always ask the subject they interview to not look down the barrel of the camera.

In public speaking (and particularly rhetoric) making direct eye contact is a sign of confidence in one’s self, and one’s message. I think we’ve taken this model of communication and applied it to the pulpit. If someone looks down we assume they’re not confident, as a preacher my confidence is in the Bible and my preparation, not in my ability to deliver something dynamic and persuasive.

When I’m listening to a sermon the only time I really want to make eye contact with a preacher is if they’re a first timer and I want to give them a reassuring nod, or if they’ve nailed me with an application and I want to look nonchalant. Otherwise I’ll be staring down at my Bible or blankly into space, or writing notes. Good listeners aren’t really looking at the preacher (in my experience).

In the best sermons I’ve heard I’ve hardly looked up at all – I’ve been so busy trying to write down all the bits and pieces I want to take home. The most entertaining sermons I’ve heard have been from people with no notes and lots of eye contact – but I can’t say I remember a whole lot of what they said.

I reckon eye contact is the bastion of people with either mediocre content or limited preparation. Everything is more listenable with eye contact – but not necessarily better. And I think we should be putting more effort into getting people to write the way they talk so they speak naturally and at an understandable pace.

From now on if somebody tells me I didn’t look up enough I’m going to tell them they weren’t looking down enough. I want people I’m preaching to to be following along in the passage and taking notes. Not staring me down pretending that I haven’t just mentioned their favourite sin.

Why do we think eye contact is important? Its place in the preaching armoury seems assumed rather than demonstrated.

What is design?

Nathan Campbell —  December 29, 2009

If I could choose to develop one skill that I don’t have I think graphic design would be high on the list. It’s so important for effective communication.

I like this collection of posters
.

Here are some of my favourites.

Gordo posted a simple summary of an article by George Orwell about how to write better. It’s pure gold. You should read his summary. Or the article.

Orwell on metaphors

A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Those of you who don’t already check out Gordo’s blog regularly should do so. He works for AFES (with Izaac) at Cumberland College.

On Swearing

Nathan Campbell —  July 21, 2009

I don’t often swear, nor am I offended by it. Simone’s latest post has some choice words in it (choice not in the New Zealand sense but in the “offensive to people who don’t like swearing” sense).
She speculatively mused on Twitter that this might offend some people. It probably will. And using such language will always do so. My thoughts on swearing are probably best expressed in list form…

  1. Swearing is not always “unwholesome talk”
    Language changes with time. “Bugger” would have been incredibly offensive 50 years ago, it’s not now. But saying inappropriate things about one’s mother will always be “unwholesome”. Language moves and evolves. It’s stupid to have hang ups about particular words.
  2. Swearing is about intention, not about content
    One thing I’ve never really understood is people who take a moral stand against swearing but use a substitue word like “sugar”. The intention is exactly the same. Who cares if one word means faeces and the other is a product of refined cane – swearing is about intent. You’re just as guilty either way, you may as well not look like a self righteous prude while being guilty.
  3. Swearing is usually grammatically and contextually innappropriate
    Honestly, the words that we most commonly “swear by” are pretty lame and can only be applied appropriately in limited circumstances – they describe body parts, bodily functions, excrement, and the act of procreation – there are only limited circumstances where these words can be used appropriately. There is an interesting, but highly offensive, documentary cartoon floating around detailing the myriad uses of the “f” word – that show that its definition has been allowed to creep too far. I’m all for swearing – provided the usage is justified both situationally (for shock value/catharsis) and the word usage is correct
  4. Swearing for the purpose of offense is wrong
  5. Swearing for the purpose of expression is lazy
    There are better words available. Use them.
  6. Swearing in the presence of those offended by swearing is wrong
    For Christians swearing is a food sacrificed to idols deal – it’s not wrong in and of itself but it’s wrong because people think it’s wrong

Lets face it – for all intents and purposes any piece of communication is an exercise in persuasion. If it’s not you shouldn’t bother. So no doubt there’ll be something useful in these “50 Scientifically proven ways to be persuasive“…

Here are some samples:

Rhyming makes the phrases more convincing. People were asked to evaluate the practical value of parables “Caution and measure will win you treasure” and “Caution and measure will win you riches”. In general proverb A was considered to be more practical and insightful than proverb B.

Caffeine increases the argumentativeness of a strong argument. Group A drank regular orange juice, group B drank orange juice infused with caffeine. Both groups were then presented with a statement on controversial issue. Except one statement then made weak and hasty arguments, while the second statement made a strong case. Both groups equally dismissed the weak argument case. As far as strongly argumentative case, group B was 30% more receptive. A faster-working brain under the influence of caffeine seems to appreciate good arguments.

Primary producers

Nathan Campbell —  April 26, 2009

I’ve been thinking a bit about preaching lately. Mostly in the course of producing my own sermons – but also as I listen to others.

One of the principles of journalism is trying to get as close to the primary source on a story as possible – a story is much more convincing if you’re dealing with someone with authority.

I think preachers need to be more careful to be pursuing the primary source – and not necessarily acknowledging sources for anything else. I guess I’m particularly referring to quoting other ministers, preachers, commentaries or texts that aren’t written with scriptural authority. For example, John Piper might have some important things to say about an issue – and it’s fine to use his thoughts and understandings of a passage to shape your message – but attributing quotes to him will only carry weight if everybody in your audience knows who he is. And ultimately your best bet is to just say what the person has said without mentioning it. At least from a communication and persuasion standpoint. If you’re really keen to give the author of the quote appropriate attribution and credit then introduce them properly as someone noteworthy to give their statement the appropriate gravitas. Fleeting name drops don’t serve anybody adequately.

Can K-Rudd hear me

Nathan Campbell —  March 23, 2009

Some time ago I posted a link to one man’s audacious bid to be heard by google. Can Google Hear Me won the hearts and minds of millions. Including Google – who were interested enough to take this man’s journey to the next level.

And now – following news that the Federal Government will now trawl critical blogs I ask the question. Can Kevin Rudd hear me?

It hasn’t taken long for people to make a connection between trawling blogs for criticism and the clean feed/blacklist campaign – particularly because the Government’s own media release listed Whirlpool.net.au’s criticism of the blacklist as one of the examples the Government’s beady eyes were watching.

I have said several things about the Ruddster and his ability to make even the most clear things unclear through erudite obfuscation. That was Rudd speak for using simple words in a complicated way so as to make things impossible to understand.

Kevin, if you’re here, and you can hear me – of if your staff are and they can – let me know in the comments. Perhaps you’d like to give me a job making your unclear communication clear.

Who knows. Perhaps you’d like to read through all the things I’ve had to say about you in the past.

Regards,

Nathan

Next ten words

Nathan Campbell —  March 23, 2009

Over at the newly revitalised Sydney Anglicans website there’s an article on an upcoming Sydney media campaign promoting Christianity. The article points out that Dominic Steele – author of the popular “Introducing God” material is nonplussed about the campaign. He likes the catchy slogan – “Jesus: All about life” but wonders what the “next ten words” are that come after the slogan.

It’s a useful question to ask anybody who’s coming up with catchy, pithy slogans – and it comes from my favourite show of all time – the West Wing. Working out your one liner is actually the second step – having substance behind it is the first – a lesson we didn’t really see in action in the recent Queensland election.

Here’s a clip from a debate in a presidential campaign.

There’s a great repository of West Wing quotes – including this one – here.

Moderator: Governor Ritchie, many economists have stated that the tax cut, which is the centerpiece of your economic agenda, could actually harm the economy. Is now really the time to cut taxes?
Gov. Ritchie: You bet it is. We need to cut taxes for one reason – the American people know how to spend their money better than the federal government does.
Moderator: Mr. President, your rebuttal.
Bartlet: There it is. That’s the ten word answer my staff’s been looking for for two weeks. There it is. Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They’re the tip of the sword. Here’s my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it? Give me ten after that, I’ll drop out of the race right now. Every once in a while… every once in a while, there’s a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that, there aren’t very many unnuanced moments in leading a country that’s way too big for ten words. I’m the President of the United States, not the President of the people who agree with me. And by the way, if the left has a problem with that, they should vote for somebody else.

Now I know my ABC

Nathan Campbell —  March 19, 2009

blacklist

I listen to the ABC a lot. In the car. At work (sometimes). And at home when the cricket is on. I like the ABC. One thing that strikes me over and over again is the type of language government types use when answering questions – even about the weather. It’s obfuscation at its best.

There really is no excuse for not using normal everyday language when talking to normal everyday people. You don’t need to master this new government speak lingo in order to communicate effectively.

Unless you’re trying not to communicate at all – but to hide and spin.

So it pleases me greatly to see that the Local Government Association of the United Kingdom has released a list of 200 words that councils and their employees should not use in order to make their communication more effective. The list is at the bottom of that media release. Here’s the SMH story.

His master’s voice

Nathan Campbell —  February 27, 2009

Did you know that HMV, the music shop, is so named for the famous picture of a dog and gramophone featured on the record above. It’s called “His Master’s Voice”.

This could easily be a post about guidance and the “voice of God”. Based on the title, anyway. But it’s not. It’s about my job.

My CEO is leaving soon. She’s been here for five years. I’ve been here for three. In that time I’ve learned her “voice” to the point that I can write quotes for her without them being chopped and changed. I used to get a fair bit of red pen scribble on my draft releases. Now I get none. Or not much. If I do it’s because I’ve been too heavy handed in my haranguing of politicians.

We’ll no doubt have a new CEO soon. This presents a problem. A new CEO means having to master a new voice. And more red pen. I hate red pen. I feel a bit like the dog in that painting – who was apparently listening to his dead master’s voice on the gramophone.

The reason I write this now – is that I’ve just written a media release with some quotes from a former manager at Townsville Enterprise – whose voice I used to write also. And she said “that’s just the way I would have said it”. Which is nice. It seems once you’ve learned a voice it’s like learning to ride a bike.

Incidentally – I use blogging as much to develop my written voice as I do to procrastinate. It’s useful. Particularly for one so accustomed to the weasel words of corporate media speak.

Do you have a “voice”, written or otherwise?

I’m not sure how to define “voice” – it’s about style, choice of words, length of sentences, nuance, emphasis, syntax, and phraseology. Some of those things are the same. Others are different. There are certain words, particularly adjectives, that often pop up when I’m writing for particular people.